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Florida Ranks High For COVID-19 Hospital Admissions, Especially Among Young Adults

Health worker in personal protective suit puts on gloves in a hospital.
Francisco Avia
Florida currently ranks fifth in the nation for new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions.

More younger adults are entering Florida hospitals sick with COVID-19, as the mostly vaccinated senior population makes progress. Health experts say the shift stresses the need to get more shots in arms.

The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is going down in Florida, but new admissions are still higher than in most parts of the country, especially for younger and middle-aged adults.

An analysis of federal data conducted by Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, found Florida ranks fifth in the nation for confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week predating May 8.

The state jumps up to third in the nation for people between 30 and 50 years old.

During that same seven days, 25% of new patients fell into that age group, up from 13% in mid-January. On the flip side, Floridians ages 70 and older went from accounting for nearly half of admissions in January to 27% last week.

The good news, according to Salemi, is that these numbers show the COVID-19 vaccines are protecting seniors from severe illness like they were intended.

The online coronavirus dashboard he operates shows about 80% of seniors in Florida have received at least one dose of a vaccine. For working age adults, the percentage is about half that.

“I think lower-than-we-would-like vaccination rates in the younger working age population, coupled with the fact that a lot of these people are back to work — they're at higher risk of exposure to the virus — is why we're seeing this,” he explained, adding that younger people are accounting for more new coronavirus cases as well.

Salemi said he hopes the figures serve as a cautionary tale.

“Go out and get vaccinated, that's the No. 1 way to protect yourself and for us to get back to normal,” he urged young adults in the community.

“But No. 2, is be mindful that nobody is immune to the ramifications of this virus. We are still seeing people hospitalized every day due to it. And so the best way to protect yourself is to couple getting vaccinated with some of the mitigation strategies — you know, distancing, wear a mask, those things are still very valuable in preventing yourself from getting infected in the first place.”

Salemi noted Florida's rankings for confirmed admissions do not include suspected COVID-19 cases, which are also included in hospitalization data that states share with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Patients labeled as suspected typically show signs and symptoms of COVID-19 but don't have a positive test result at the time of reporting.

The percentage of confirmed versus suspected differs among all the states. For example, in the week leading up to May 8, about 63% of adult COVID-19 admissions in Florida were confirmed cases. In California, just 35% of cases were confirmed.

On his dashboard, Salemi compares states for confirmed cases only, and for confirmed and suspected combined. In the latter analysis, Florida’s ranking drops to 13th in the nation for new COVID admissions, which ultimately is still high.

He said it’s important to note that the strides Florida is making in terms of reducing severe COVID-19 in older residents are significant, but that there is a lot more work to be done.

Hundreds of thousands of seniors in the state still have not been vaccinated, which is why despite the decline in admissions, there are still a lot of older adults hospitalized with the disease.

And the shift in age distribution, mirrored in other parts of the country, highlights the toll the virus continues to take on younger populations as well, as more dangerous variants spread in the community.

Salemi said he is concerned to see the pace of new vaccinations slow in Florida and stressed the importance of engaging with those reluctant to get shots.

“When you balance the risk versus benefits, there’s no comparison, the benefits of vaccination, especially at the community level, are just massive,” he said.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.